Genital warts are soft growths that appear on the genitals. They can cause pain, discomfort, and itching.
Genital warts a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by certain low-risk strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). These are different from the high-risk strains that can lead to cervical dysplasia and cancer.
How Are Genital Warts Diagnosed?
To diagnose this condition, your doctor will ask questions about your health and sexual history. This includes symptoms you’ve experienced and whether you’ve engaged in sex, including oral sex, without condoms or oral dams.
Your doctor will also perform a physical examination of any areas where you suspect warts may be occurring.
For Women Only
Because warts can occur deep inside a woman’s body, your doctor may need to do a pelvic examination. They may apply a mild acidic solution, which helps to make the warts more visible.
Your doctor may also do a Pap test (also known as a Pap smear), which involves taking a swab of the area to obtain cells from your cervix. These cells can then be tested for the presence of HPV.
Certain types of HPV may cause abnormal results on a Pap test, which may indicate precancerous changes. If your doctor detects these abnormalities, you may need either more frequent screenings to monitor any changes or a specialized procedure called a colposcopy.
If you’re a woman and concerned that you may have contracted a form of HPV known to cause cervical cancer, your doctor can perform a DNA test. This determines what strain of HPV you have in your system. An HPV test for men isn’t yet available.
How Are Genital Warts Treated?
While visible genital warts often go away with time, HPV itself can linger in your skin cells. This means you may have several outbreaks over the course of your life. So managing symptoms is important because you want to avoid transmitting the virus to others. That said, genital warts can be passed on to others even when there are no visible warts or other symptoms.
You may wish to treat genital warts to relieve painful symptoms or to minimize their appearance. However, you can’t treat genital warts with over-the-counter (OTC) wart removers or treatments.
Your doctor may prescribe topical wart treatments that might include:
- imiquimod (Aldara)
- podophyllin and podofilox (Condylox)
- trichloroacetic acid, or TCA
If visible warts don’t go away with time, you may need minor surgery to remove them. Your doctor can also remove the warts through these procedures:
- electrocautery, or burning warts with electric currents
- cryosurgery, or freezing warts
- laser treatments
- excision, or cutting off warts
- injections of the drug interferon
Home Remedies for Genital Warts
Don’t use OTC treatments meant for hand warts on genital warts. Hand and genital warts are caused by different strains of HPV, and treatments designed for other areas of the body are often much stronger than treatments used on the genitals. Using the wrong treatments may do more harm than good.
Some home remedies are touted as helpful in treating genital warts, but there is little evidence to support them. Always check with your doctor before trying a home remedy.